Propolis: Bane of the Beekeeper’s Wife

There are many things that set me off on a rant but the worst ones involve Any Other Person messing up My Stuff. It doesn’t have to technically be my stuff. If I use it and/or clean it, it counts as mine.

Any beekeeper wife will agree that beekeeping presents some challenges with protecting stuff. For instance, you can not melt wax using any pots or utensils you ever again would want to use for food prep. And even then, there are better and not better ways to clean up the wax tools. But the worst offender by far is propolis, the sticky stuff that bees use to seal up nooks, cracks, and crannies in the hive. It is all over the top and bottom edges of the honey boxes. And then it gets on everything else.

And it won’t come off. Clothing, countertops, floor, you name it, if propolis was there it will stick there.

Sunday, our newest junior beekeeper donned the junior-sized bee-suit to watch PopPop BeeMan pull a honey box from Hive 2. His sister stayed back at the house and joined in to watch the honey spin and be bottled. They learned quite a bit about the honey harvesting process.

Seth uses the smoker

They also learned that MomMom does not like to share.

BeeMan had used a bee escape to minimize the number of bees in the honey box. It’s a clever contraption that allows bees to go down to the hive box at night but then they can’t figure out how to get back upstairs. It’s a great way to bring the honey home without a couple thousand accompanying bees. Nevertheless, there were still some bees that made it back to the house with the honey. BeeMan blew off those he could with my new leaf blower but, still, a few made it into the mudroom where we process the honey and they were buzzing around the room.

Checking out the bees on the bee escape

What to do with buzzing bees inside? Vacuum them. BeeMan got the hand vac, but it was not sufficiently charged. So he asked for the vacuum.

Oh. No. Absolutely Not.

I explained to the children that I just bought a wonderful new Shark vacuum and have used it only two weeks. BeeMan may not get sticky bee glop on My Brand New Vacuum.

There is, however, a fully functioning old vacuum in the basement for BeeMan to use for any vacuuming needs he might have. So he sucked up the stray bees who continued to buzz in the dust bin while the children worried for their health.

Fast forward to today. The old vacuum still sits in the mudroom, the captive bees now dead. (Don’t tell the kids.) I have moved on to another project– cleaning out bathroom cabinets in preparation for painting them. I grab the hand vac from the charger. You know, the hand vac that BeeMan didn’t use because it wasn’t fully charged?

He didn’t use it.

He touched it.

The handle is all gooped up with propolis.

Arrrrghhh!

Propolis on My Stuff

But the internet is a wonderful thing. Rusty at Honey Bee Suite discovered that propolis can be removed from a camera with isopropyl alcohol. Well, having just emptied all the contents of the bathroom cabinet, I happen to know that I have isopropyl alcohol (and two bottles of witch hazel and more bottles of lotions, creams, and ointments than I know what to do with). Right at my feet. In one of these eight bags of stuff. Oh, there’s a whole bag of cotton balls, too.

Three cotton balls later, the hand vac is sparkly clean– and sanitized, too. It was super easy. This is great! Now, after we are done harvesting honey, I can use alcohol to de-goop the counters and floor. Despair is lifted. I can return to the bathroom project.

No more propolis!

But first, I better go inspect the leaf blower.

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The First of This Year’s Honey: Beating the Bear

We pulled four frames of honey today. They were capped and we are so afraid that the local bear will defeat our electric fence and get to the hives again that we decided to pull some honey as soon as possible.

Those of you familiar with our bear escapades will remember that last year the bear came by three times, knocking the hives over without managing to procure any honey. The bees were pretty traumatized, though, and took out their anxiety on Mr. Beeman, buzzing at him with a ferocity he had never seen.

Beeman, understandably, does not want to lose any honey to this bear.

Early this week, we noticed that one hive had some frames that were capped. Yesterday, Beeman put a bee escape on that hive to prepare for taking the frames. A bee escape is a maze-like board that goes between the top box and the next box down in the hive. At night, the bees go “downstairs” where the queen is. With the bee escape, the bees can go down, but they can’t figure out how to get back up. That leaves the top box relatively bee-free, which makes it a whole lot easier to take the box. Ha! We are smarter than the average bear.

Bee escape

Well, mostly smarter than the average bear. Beeman forgot to plug the electric fence back in after adding the bee escape. He remembered at 3 a.m. Talk about an electric jolt! He jumped out of bed to plug in the cord and then made his way by cellphone light to the bee yard to make sure the hives were still intact. If any bear were in the vicinity, the sight of Beeman in the woods in his underwear at 3 a.m. would have scared him away, for sure!

We spun the frames in our new-last-year electric spinner. It is much more efficient than hand-cranking, although it doesn’t provide quite the same upper arm workout.

Today’s honey is much lighter than last year’s. Last year’s honey had the strong molasses-like taste of tulip poplar. This year, the honey is lighter and more delicate with definite wild berry overtones. No surprise, since we have been picking blueberries by the bucket and tons of wild raspberries are just now ripening. (I just have to figure out how to beat the deer to those berries!)

The air has also been aromatic with wild rose, honeysuckle, and, recently, the oak leaf hydrangea, which is evidently a pollen feast for every pollinator in the area. They have been all over it!

So, 2018 was robust and 2019 is more delicate. Yum to both!

Oops, No Queen: Recombining a Hive

A few weeks ago, in the midst of the spring nectar flow, with queen cells popping up everywhere, BeeMan decided to split a hive using some of the unwanted queen cells. The three other hives, with more room to grow and no longer honey-bound, resumed laying eggs and all is well.

Honey-bound is when the bees are so busy bringing nectar and pollen to the hive that there is no room for baby bees. The solution for the bees is to swarm. BeeMan averted the swarm by adding more boxes with frames and by providing empty frames in the queen box for the queen to lay eggs.. Having no longer a need to swarm, the queen would kill off any pretenders to the throne. And then, she would resume laying.

And that is what happened. The three original hives are busily filling the frames with brood and honey.

The split, however, never managed to produce a queen. BeeMan surmises that the queen cells he gave them were not viable. The queen from the original hive may have stung them before he created new hive. Why does he think this? He had taken a couple of queen cells back to the house and opened them. They were not alive.

Today’s mission in the bee yard was two-fold: recombine the split with its original hive and check to see if honey is ready to be harvested.

Combining the hives was pretty simple. Put the queen-less box on top of the original hive. Ah, but not that simple. The new bees in the original hive will not recognize the bees that had left. To make for a happy transition, a layer of newspaper goes between the two boxes. The bees will get used to their smells as they eat through the paper and become one big family.

And what about the bees who were out foraging when the hives were combined? They come back home to discover that home is not where they left it!

BeeMan says they hopefully will smell their group and find their way to the right hive. I certainly hope so!

As for the honey harvest, one large honey box on the third hive is ready to go! The other two hives have filled out frames but have not capped all the honey cells yet. We plan to go back into the third hive later this week for the first box of honey.

What’s the rush? Usually we wait until the end of July, but with a bear lurking in the area, we want to be sure the honey ends up in our tummies, not his!

Bear print on our property. Photo by Rich DeMarco.

Swarm Season

Tulip poplar blossom

One of our bees on a wild rose

Maywood is in its glory as the May woods blossom with tulip poplars, black locust, and wild roses. The bees have already had their fill of red maple and skunk cabbage and purple dead nettle, a pretty purple-flowering ground cover that brought in bright red pollen.

Yesterday we went in to the bees for the first time in a month and discovered exactly what we found this time a year ago–queen cells, drone cells, capped brood but no larva, and no visible queen.

A year ago, at the beginning of the rainiest year ever in Maryland, the condition of the hives sent us into a near panic. These were brand new nucs. Had we gotten poor queens–again? We did some quick research and managed to avoid two swarms while getting, in the process, a third hive by creating a split with some frames containing queen cells. What the heck, if it didn’t work, we would still have our two hives. But it did work, and the three hives made it not only through the summer, but through the winter, too! This was the first winter in years that we brought all the hives through the winter.

Last year, the rainy weekends kept us from keeping a closer check on the hives. This year it was a combination of rain, cold, and Mother’s Day that kept us away. At our April check, BeeMan put queen excluders and honey boxes on the three hives, happy that the bees had plenty of room to expand.

Hive A, the only hive with its original queen, had been thriving the least of the three. In April we saw the queen (that I had beautifully marked in green last year!) and lots of active laying, but they had done the least to fill up the hive. So, yesterday, we were dismayed to not find her. Hives B and C had lots of baby bees in progress last month, even though we did not see their (as yet unmarked) queens.

Green dot marks last year’s queen

While we inspected Hive A, a queen cell broke as BeeMan pulled out a frame. Out emerged a brand new queen, not that we recognized her at first. She ended up with some other bees in my plastic tub with the burr comb I’m saving. We were almost ready to close up the hive when I got a better look at her.

“Hey, I think this is a queen!”

Sure enough, the young virgin queen with her slender abdomen was wandering around the plastic tub. (Kind of like humans, the women are slender until they get fat with babies and stay that way forever. The queen gets one wild fling a mile up in the air with all the drones she can handle, and then she is just an egg-laying machine, confined to the hive to reproduce for the rest of the life. She doesn’t even get a career.)

The young queen was easy to trap and mark and plop back into the hive. Alas, I still only have the one green marking pen, so both the old queen and the new queen wear green dots. The new queen has a more delicate dot, since I did a better job this year. So, are there two queens in the hive about to fight to the death? Or just the new one? Our next hive check may tell.

Peanut shaped thing hanging off the bottom of the frame is a queen cell

Hive B was very active and full and looking more like it wanted to swarm than to replace a queen. The top box was all honey, so we were assured that the queen was in the bottom box when the excluder went on. BeeMan decided to make a split, taking two frames with queen and brood cells, two frames with honey/nectar, and three empty frames to start a new hive. He will add more empty frames soon. There are still queen cells in the original hives but since we did not see the queen, we were afraid to destroy them. He added another honey box so they have more room.

Hive C was also very active and looking more swarm ready. BeeMan, on a hunch that the queen was probably still in there, got rid of all the queen cells and added another honey box.

The advantage of having several hives is being able to try different things and see what works. We learned a lot last year. Let’s hope that we learned enough!

BeeMan in the bee yard within the bear fence

Where’s Mom?

When we were little, my siblings and I used to do hide-and-seek with my mother. It wasn’t a game. She was really hiding. And we were seeking. It was a big house–three floors plus a basement–and as we climbed the stairs calling, “Mom! Mooooooooooooommmmmmm!” we were sure that she must have gone down to one floor while we were ascending to another. Years later, when we were in high school ( and a smaller house), we learned that Mom had been hiding in her walk-in closet. It was her only refuge. We always found her if she tried to sneak a minute of peace in the bathroom.

My cell phone rings. It’s my sister. The one who wasn’t born yet when Mom played hide-and-seek.

“Where’s Mom?”

First thought: How the heck should I know?
Second thought: It’s the day she volunteers at the soup kitchen, but she would have been home hours ago. Maybe she’s napping.

“I’ve been texting and calling her for days and she doesn’t respond.”

First thought: She’s lying on the floor of her condo unresponsive and/ or dead.
Second thought: My sister is calling me because she’s having the same first thought. She could just go over to Mom’s and let herself in, but she’s calling me because she doesn’t want to go over there by herself. She wants me to go with her and call 911 and read the advance directive that Mom has posted on the fridge.

“She was alive on Sunday, ” I say. “She rsvp’d for Thanksgiving.”

“I know,” my sister says, ” I saw that she signed up, but she hasn’t responded to me since.” (We use an online sign up program, so everyone coming to Thanksgiving knows that Mom is bringing shrimp and her famous Vienna Cake.)

Ok. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. I saw her sign up post but haven’t talked to her for a couple of weeks.. Days have passed with no word from her.
Oh wait…was this the week she was going on a bus trip to West Virginia with her church friends? Or did she already go on that trip? I talked to her about a trip…wait…that was the trip to Cape Cod. The trip where none of the other travelers drank and she felt awkward having her vodka at dinner.
More guilt. I should know if this is the week she is going to West Virginia. I should have it marked on all my calendars in bold letters: MOM IN WEST VIRGINIA.
I tell my sister, ” This might be the week she’s on a trip to West Virginia.”

“Why doesn’t she tell people these things?”

“She told me.”

“She should tell more people.”

“I think she doesn’t so that we will have to get worried and call each other.”

“Well, I am nearly hysterical with worry!” says the sister who decades ago called Mom in post-partum distress threatening to harm someone. Mom flew in her car to save the baby from a crazed mother. When she arrived, the baby was quietly settled down for a nap while my sister calmly prepared a cup of tea.

“You do have a history of overreacting.”

“Wait…she’s texting me. She’s in West Virginia. I have to go. I’m going to call her and yell at her for scaring me.”

Poor Mom. She has forgotten the most important part of hide-and-seek….stay hidden.

Les Rûches de Notre Dame and the Prize of Paris Honey: Beekeepers Go to Paris

montmartre

I took this photo because a student bought a painting of it. Came home to realize that I bought the same scene three years ago!

We were dining in Montmartre when the news broke that Notre Dame was on fire. Almost instantly, our phones began dinging with texts from back home. 

“Notre Dame is on fire!”

“Where are you? Are you ok?”

Concern for our well-being came with snarky comments, too: “Was John smoking cigars in the restroom at Notre Dame?”

“We are fine! We did not do it!”

After dinner, we made our way to the steps of Sacre Coeur, the highest point in Paris, where we joined many others in dismay to watch the glow of a historical treasure burning into the night. We stayed up there until 11:00 p.m. to give our group their first glimpse of the twinkling Tour Eiffel, but the Tour Eiffel did not twinkle that night.

Addison Mueller's photo of Notre Dame burning

Notre Dame as seen from the steps at Sacre Coeur. Photo by Addison Mueller, a student on our tour.

Our initial fear for the structure of the cathedral gave way to concern for the bees of Notre Dame.  We knew that three hives were kept on the roof of Notre Dame, but the roof was now gone!  Fortunately, the hives were not kept on the very top of the cathedral (that would be a bit difficult to manage!), but rather, thirty meters lower on roof of the sacristy on the north side of the cathedral.  The sacristy did not burn; however, Notre Dame beekeeper Nicholas Geant had concern for the temperature near the hives. The bees would be doomed by melting wax as much as by flame.https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/19/europe/notre-dame-bees-fire-intl-scli/index.html

Miraculously,  the bees were not harmed by flame, heat, or water.  Drone footage and video by those with access to the roof show the bees zipping hither and yon as usual. (Now the question is when the beekeeper will be permitted to tend to the hives.  Spring is a very busy time for beekeepers as well as bees!) 

The fire at Notre Dame affected, but did not diminish, our trip.  We had planned to attend a Tenebrae service on Holy Thursday.  Instead, we took our group to see the magnificent stained glass at Sainte Chapelle, built in the 13th century to house the Crown of Thorns relic which was rescued from the burning Notre Dame.

Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle

 

Streets near Notre Dame were blocked and some metro stops were closed, which made getting to dinner in the Latin Quarter less direct, but we had only one glitch, when our guide had us going the wrong direction on the metro!  Good thing our group knew to follow the listing of metro stops posted on the train!

“Hey, Bibi! Aren’t we going the wrong way?”

“Oh! Yes! We are! Everyone off at the next stop!”  

And just like that, our group of twenty-three hopped off and turned around to go toward the Latin Quarter.  At dinner, our waiter told us of the cinders that fell just outside the restaurant when the spire of Notre Dame crashed in flames.

Our Seine River cruise detoured to avoid making its usual circuit around Notre Dame on Ile St. Louis, but we still got plenty of photos of a now-twinkling Tour Eiffel.

Tour Eiffel with full moon

 

But amidst all the usual touristy stops, Beekeeper John and Beekeeper Wife Me were in search of honey.  Our first stop, at the Opéra Garnier, yielded nothing.  The honey from the hives on the roof of the Opéra had sold out quickly after last summer’s  harvest.

Opéra Garnier roofline

Opéra Garnier, home of the Phantom of the Opéra and some beehives

 

We had more success in Giverny at Monet’s Gardens.  John found a sticky jar of Normandy honey in the gift shop. I gave him grief for selecting a sticky jar, but he assured me that all the jars were sticky.  Ah, what a homey touch! (I would have wiped the jars before selling them in a gift shop!)

Monet house & gardens in Giverny

Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny

My coup came at the unlikeliest of places–the Paris Catacombs.  My students had added this to our itinerary and waited patiently–and even happily–in line for three and a half hours–yes, 3.5 hours–to climb down and up over 200 steps to see the bones of 6 million Parisians arranged in artistic patterns.  The drama teacher sang creepy stage songs and multiple students simultaneously played their cellphone recording of another student’s laughter for a frighteningly good creepy atmosphere.

Paris Catacombs

The Catacombs of Paris

We emerged from the Paris underworld and entered the gift shop, which was full of ghoulish humor and plenty of  skulls on tee shirts, mugs, posters, magnets, you name it.  And there it was…Le Miel de Paris!  Paris honey from the beehives of Les Invalides gardens, L’Ecole Militaire, and the Musée D’Orsay.  Sweetness, for sure!  I was even willing to pay eighteen euros for the tiny jar.

Some people wonder why we would buy honey in Giverny and Paris when we have our own honey at home.  It has to do with terroir.  Just as wines vary not just by grape but by the environment in which they are grown, every honey tastes different.  This French-teaching beekeeper wife came home from Paris with three new scarves, four new kitchen magnets, two jars of French honey, and a sigh of relief that the bees still buzz at Notre Dame.

Paris and Normandy honey

 

 

 

This Little Light of Mine: Beeswax Candles

I recently gifted a dear sister-in-law with two homemade beeswax candles.  This has prompted her to do a blog post about beeswax candles.  And that has been a major kick in the pants for me to share my candle adventure here.

Making candles is so easy!  Just melt and pour.

NOT.

It took me over a year to make two lovingly gifted candles.  It took about an hour to make the actual candles but a year of research and development to create the plan.

The Wax

It begins with beeswax.  I could buy beeswax pastilles online, but I wanted to use the wax from our own bees.

But first, I had to purify the beeswax.  Normally, purifying the beeswax takes an evening.  I melt wax  from our hives in a pot of water, and a lovely disk of cool wax is ready for me in the morning. However, I have begun purifying it twice, because the second go-round results in a much cleaner wax.  Cleaning it twice takes longer, but once the wax is clean, it can be stored indefinitely and is ready for making candles and lip balm.  You can see how I clean my beeswax here.

The Candle Recipe

With clean wax ready to use, I needed to decide on a candle recipe.  Pure beeswax candles would be awesome, but I had a limited supply of beeswax.  And until we have more success with  our beehives, that supply will continue to be limited.  So, I chose to blend two parts beeswax to one part coconut oil. I used processed coconut oil because I did not want coconut to compete with the naturally sweet smell of beeswax. For that same reason, I  chose not to add any fragrance to my candles.

The Container

Starting simple, I planned to make votives.  I have more than a bazillion votive holders leftover from three daughters’ weddings.  In addition, my aforementioned dear sister-in-law gifted me with about a hundred Yoplait Oui! jars last Thanksgiving. I do not lack for jars, but which jars would be best for my candles?  I picked the Yoplait jars because I was planning to give some to my sister-in-law who, as you may have guessed, is addicted to Yoplait Oui! yogurt and the cute little jars.  (For her clever ideas, you can visit her blog Now That You Are Home.)

The Wick

The most important factor in producing a good candle was to determine what size wick I needed for the jars.  This is where R&D got serious.  I ordered a sample pack of wicks from CandleScience.com. The Candle Science website had helpful information about choosing the right wick size.  The extremely helpful information said, “It’s hard to give accurate wick recommendations for Beeswax.” But they offered a sampler pack of ECO pre-tabbed wicks to practice with and the advice that beeswax, burning more slowly, will require bigger wicks than paraffin or soy wax do.

So, with a sample pack of wicks and a variety of jars laid out in a grid on a paper bag, I melted the 2/3 beeswax-1/3 coconut oil in a double boiler that is reserved exclusively for playing with wax.  That took about 45 minutes.  Then I poured the hot wax into wicked jars. That part was wicked easy.

The Test Burn

A very important step came next–test burning the candles. If the wick is too big, the candle will burn too fast.  It the wick is too small, the candle will not burn fast enough and the flame could drown in a pool of melted wax.  Another problem with a too-small wick is “tunneling.” Tunneling happens when the wax does not melt to the edges of the container, so the candle melts down into a hole in the center of the jar with wax still along the sides.  The proper size wick should result in a lovely pool of melted wax to the edges of the container after a two hour burn.

We dined by candlelight that night of the test burn.  Although the candles were systematically laid out on the kitchen island in rows labeled by jar and wick size, the science experiment still cast a romantic ambience over the room.

The Results

All did not go as planned.  I ran out of wax before getting to the correct jar with the correct wick size.  All the candles had wicks that were too small.

I melted some of the candles again and tried with the largest wicks in my sample pack.  It seemed to be a tie  between the ECO 12 and the ECO 14 wicks. I decided to go with the ECO 12.

Being an optimist, I ordered 100 wicks. (Add that to the list of things my daughters will be tossing when I’m dead.)

I  made another, smaller,  batch of candles with this year’s wax.  The yield was four Yoplait Oui! jars.

And I think the wick is too small.

And I think that the Yoplait jar is not the best choice for my  candles.  A straight-sided votive would burn better. And I probably should use a smaller jar.  The  4 oz. Yoplait jar is about the same size as a small Yankee tumbler.

Next year, I will try a narrower jar and/or the ECO 14 wick.

But I would also like to try to find the right wick for a pure beeswax burn.

The R&D continues.

Shrooms!

As though bags of cucumbers and bushloads of tomatoes aren’t enough to deal with the week before heading back to school, we just discovered some amazing gourmet mushrooms growing along our driveway. These aren’t the cute little morrels that John found where the ginko trees used to grow.  These babies are enormous.

Hen of the woods or black staining polypore?


The first is growing near the mailbox.  We contacted our chef buddy who contacted his mushroom buddy who believed that we have a hen of the woods.  Mushroom connoisseurs go crazy over these.  One hen-lover makes special lasagna with it—one to eat now and one to freeze for later. Hen of the woods mushrooms grow at the base of dead oak trees.  Sure enough, this one is at the base of a dead oak tree, and two more are growing on the other side of the tree.  The hen is a fall mushroom and can be found as early as late August after heavy rain.  It is not quite mid-August here but it has been unusually cool and wet…as our flooded basement can attest to.  They often re-appear in the same location year after year.  Hmm.  So maybe we now have a morrel location in the spring and a hen of the woods location for the fall?

Or do we have a black staining polypore?  The black staining polypore turns black where you touch it or cut it.  Growing under the oak tree, this mushroom is beautifully white on the underside and does not turn black when we touch it. However, once it is harvested and sitting in the mudroom, it immediately begins to turn and the cut edges are definitely black. The polypore’s season is July and August.  It has a wonderful earthy fragrance, more intense than a portobello.  While not as exquisite as the hen, it is edible and freezable, even in its blackened state.
Walking back to the ‘shroom for more photos, I spotted another mushroom along the drive.  After having researched the hen, I was pretty sure I was now spotting a chicken!  A chicken of the woods mushroom.

Chicken of the woods


Chicken of the woods has been described as tasting like…ready?  Chicken.  Or crab or lobster. Our new mushroom friend recently dipped hers in egg and flour and fried it for a heavenly meal that even her ten year old step-son liked.  

I thought we were having hamburgers for dinner tonight with a slice of tomato and home-made pickle.  Looks like the menu is changed to mushroom surprise.  It’s a surprise because I haven’t decided which one to cook first or how I want it prepared. I also have to decide what to do with what we don’t eat.  

This is feeling like Part One of a mushroom series.  And I haven’t even gotten to the intriguing topic of cucumber chips.

Stayed tuned.  And if back-to-school side-tracks me, then you’ll just have to nag. I have a feeling we will be dealing with the bounty of the land for quite awhile.

Post-dinner update: guess what? The chicken of the woods tastes like chicken!  We cooked it up using a recipe from Forager Chef and it was like eating chicken tenders.  Once we’ve waited 48 hours to not die from the chicken, John plans to saute up some of the other.  I really deserve a prize for being a supportive wife.

Surf and Turf

Not yet 8 a.m.  Vacation Man heads to the beach to set up camp for the day.  He’s not the first.  He has been spurred to action by another Vacation Dad hauling beach gear down the street.  Yesterday, he set out after eight and barely found a good spot. Today, while he claims his turf, the procession of Vacation Dads begins, probably spurred on by seeing him. Half a dozen WonderWheelers lumber down the street.  Not on the sidewalk, mind you, but down the middle of the street.  It is that early. They rumble and creak, piled with chairs and umbrellas and boogie boards.  

Toys and towels will come later, with the women and children.  But we are hours away from that. Lifeguards won’t report for duty for another two hours.  Sleepy-eyed children are still slurping cereal while watching cartoons. Comatose moms nurse their coffee.  Early risers are just now coming home from their runs, coffee and even newspapers in hand.

But Vacation Dads are out providing for their families.  

A good beach position is important.  You want to be juuuuuuust beyond the high tide line, at the crest of the rise of soft, fluffy sand.  Not only does this put you in front position, but this is where the breezes are best.  For families with young children, this position enables parents to supervise children from their beach chairs.  If they are too far back, some parents will still try to supervise their children from their chairs, but their cries of supervision can only be heard by the annoyed adults sitting around them.

Yesterday, it went something like this.  Little Dillon (never saw the boy in my life but I know his name now like I know my own) wanted his cousin/aunt/young female adult person who was used to doing his bidding to come out of the water and tend to him.  He is maybe four years old.

“Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!”  He shouted this over and over and over and over again.  Louder and louder and louder.  But still, his little voice did not reach Emma, who was rolicking in the waves with other young ladies her age.  We (and the couple next to us) could hear him because he was sitting in front of us. Mom was behind us, in her chair.

“Dillon!  She can’t hear you!”  Yeah, well, Dillon couldn’t hear Mom either.  “Dillon! Dillon! Dillon! She can’t hear you!”  This went on like a recording on repeat.

Oh. My. Gosh.  It was all I could do to stay in my seat.  I wanted to tell the mom to get off her butt and talk to the boy quietly.  Or tell Dillon to quietly wait for Emma to come out of the water.  Or even go into the water myself and tell Emma that Dillon needed her. 

No, one does not correct other families at the beach, anymore than one gives unsolicited advice to people being attacked by seagulls while eating.  It is, however, perfectly acceptable to laugh when a teenage girl’s cry of “Gack!” is followed by “And this is why I hate the beach!”

Beach rules: Don’t correct other families.  Don’t give unsolicited advice.  Stake out your spot early.

I don’t know that other beaches adhere to the early stake-out rule.  It might be unique to the Cape May neighborhood we frequent, where families rent by the week or month and have routines.  It reminds me of Baltimore rowhouse neighborhoods during snowstorms.  There is no law that says you can stake out your parking spot with lawn chairs just because you shoveled it out.  But woe to the obnoxious neighbor who parks in a spot that someone else shoveled.  

Like parking spots after snowstorms, people at our Cape May beach generally accept that the early bird gets the prime location.  Even if the early bird won’t sit in it for hours.  It’s part of the beach culture here.  And astute Vacation Dads pick up on this quickly.  Is it a desire to keep the Woman happy?  Or is it a testosterone-driven competition?  Whichever, with every successive day, the WonderWheeler parade gets an earlier start.

Based on the number of prime spots already taken by 7:45, today’s parade must have started at dawn. 

Trees Must Die

Another tree made it onto my hit list this week.  It must come down.  It has attacked and offended me. 

The tree is perfectly healthy.  For years it has grown near the corner of our house, sneakily growing taller and reaching smidge by smidge over the driveway toward my car. And then, just as my car approaches its first birthday, the tree begins splotching sap. First, a curious clear sticky blob appears on the driver’s side door handle.  Then another streaks down the window.  Blip and blop, sticky patches bloom everywhere.  Where is the source of this oozy mess?  I look up and see just one possible source…the red maple that now arches all the way across the parking pad.  Last summer, when I bought the car, the tree did not reach this far.  It did not drip sap on the car last summer.  Last summer, it did not offend.

This summer, the tree has crossed the line.  Encroaching on the house is bad enough–it encourages the squirrels to find new access points to the attic.  But messing with my car?  See, Tree, now you have made an Enemy.

Mr. Handyman Husband already has tree-whacking on his To-Do List. He even has Son-in-Law salivating at the prospect of felling some trees.  However, there is a waiting list of trees that must come down.  

First in line are the two dead oaks out front that suffered a direct lightning hit a few years back.  These are the trees causing Son-in-Law to salivate, for standing dead trees mean instant firewood. Standing dead trees also pose the greatest risk of becoming falling dead trees, often in the middle of winter when a tree crashing through the roof is most inconvenient.

Next in line is the perfectly healthy hickory tree on the other side of the driveway.  This tree does not drip. It drops hickory nut bombs.  Then they roll across the driveway like grenades, ready to pop under the weight of car tires.  The car parked beneath the hickory tree belongs to IBM, so Handyman Husband does not care so much if the hickory nuts leave dents all over it.  His lovely Ford F-250, however, is an altogether different story.  The truck can get muddy, but dents?  No tree will ping nut bombs at the truck. So, the hickory tree is next after the dead oaks.

There are easily five or six more trees on The List, but the sap-attack tree takes precedence and immediately earns placement as Tree #4.

“How many trees can you take down at one time?” I ask Handyman Husband.

“We could take several trees down, but then we would have to deal with what is on the ground,” he replies.  

He knows what I want.  I want all the trees to come down and he can deal with the mess in stages for the rest of his life. I know it is impractical and unsafe and probably beyond human strength. But he’s been doing things for years that have been impractical, unsafe, and beyond human strength.  His eye roll lets me know to back off.  He can only do what he can do.

In the meantime, I have to deal with tree sap stubborn enough to withstand a high-pressure car wash.  A little bit of research provides a quick and easy solution: hand sanitizer! I squirt a bit onto my finger, rub it into the sap to break it up, then wipe with a clean towel.  Repeat forty thousand times to hit every single sap drip and voila! Sap is gone. Well, maybe there were twenty drips, not counting the ones on the roof that I can’t see and can’t reach anyway.  It didn’t take long at all to remove a week’s worth of tree droppings.

The tree still must die.  And I still must wait.  But armed with hand sanitizer, I at least do not have to drive around town with tree boogies stuck to my car.

A Sauna-dweller travels to Colorado

I should have packed eye drops, but I forgot that Colorado air is dry enough to suck out all your eyeball juice.  In Colorado, no one says, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” like they do in Baltimore.  In Colorado, when it is hot it is dry hot. Sweat doesn’t stick to skin like a wet blanket.  No, the air in Colorado is like a hot towel fresh from the dryer. Perspiration wicks right into that hotness, tricking one into thinking it isn’t happening at all.  At dinner, I chug two tall glasses of water and realize that I am just as dehydrated in the Dry Land as I am in Sauna Land.  

By Day Two, my sinuses are disgustingly crusty, reminding me of a visit to Spain where tour group members from Las Vegas complained about the humidity while Baltimoreans were discretely dealing with dried up bloodied boogers.  Ah, but on a brighter side, the tiny persistent patch of maybe-poison ivy is drying up.  Too small for a prednisone cure but too stubborn to succumb to over-the-counter cortisone, it seems to have met its match with 20% humidity.

Day Two is also when my body notices that there is hardly any oxygen at 5430 feet. I was born at sea level (ok, maybe fifty feet above, if you allow for whatever floor of the hospital I was on). The altitude of my hometown is 6.9 feet above sea level.  I currently live a whopping 689 feet above sea level.  I forego hiking today. Instead, I ponder the mysteries of the universe at the planetarium.

By Day Three, I can enjoy the low humidity and oxygen-deprived hike trails all at the same time. I think I am adjusting.  I overhear a clerk at McGucken’s Hardware telling a co-worker that she had to move “back down” because her oxygen levels were too low.  “Down” in Baltimore refers to “Downy Ocean, Hon” where we rinse our sticky sweaty skin in salt water. In Boulder, it means to come down off the mountains.  Yeah, the struggle is real.  

I think my eyeballs are drying out. I miss my eyedrops, the ones I use to treat excessive screen time.  They are in my other purse, the bigger one, the shoulder breaking one, the one I downsized because I do not need to constantly carry with me stuff for every possible contingency.  But dry eyes is a contingency I forgot to plan for.  

I did plan for my usual skin care. Still, the little tubes of moisturizer in the hotel that I usually stash as souvenirs in my suitcase to keep in my desk at work?  Gone. Every day, my skin soaks up the whole dang tube.

By the time I get semi-used to Rocky Mountain air, it is time to come home.  Reentry to Sauna Land is delayed by a band of thunderstorms in Baltimore that prevent our departure from Denver International Airport by an extra two eyeball-sucking hours. We emerge from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport into a slap-in-the-face literal 100% humidity.  As we drive home, steam rises from the highway.  Closer to rural home, puffs of low lying clouds hover barely overhead, and as we drive through the cornfields on our road, we see that the cloud puffs emerge directly from the field.  Rainfall is evaporating but there is no room in the air for it.  

The air, full of oxygen and saturated with water, is heavy to breathe.  I understand now how my (few and far between) houseplants feel when I finally relieve them of my neglect (all the more desperate since they often sit right by a sink).  I am like those dehydrated toy sponges in a capsule that come to life in a bowl of water.  Hydrating and blooming, I will be bloated again by morning.  

I think of the family from Austin, Texas, that sat next to me on the plane, who had vacationed at Yellowstone and were now visiting friends in Baltimore.  They must think they are drowning.

Ah, but they won’t need eyedrops.